The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) has applauded the continuing growth in self-employment, as evidenced in the latest labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The new ONS data shows that self-employment – an overarching category that encompasses precariously engaged, low-skilled “gig” workers right through to high-end contracting professionals – climbed by 125,000 in the three months to December 2016 to reach 4.8 million.

At 74.6 per cent, the UK employment rate has reached its highest point since comparable records began being compiled 46 years ago in 1971.

The number of people in work increased between the last two quarters of 2016, while the number of unemployed people remained relatively unchanged. On a year-on-year basis, the unemployment rate fell at the close of 2016 from the 5.1 per cent recorded in 2015 to 4.8 per cent. This is the lowest level that it has reached since 2005, well before the financial crisis.

The ongoing rise in self-employment, which includes professional contractors working via Umbrella Companies or their own microbusinesses (personal service companies), was hailed by IPSE CEO Chris Bryce as “a sign of the UK economy’s resilience” during 2016. Noting that unemployment has fallen to an 11-year low, he applauded the willingness of more people to go it alone. He stated that freelancers and solo business entrepreneurs are a boon to the labour market, which is stronger as a result of their contributions.

However, he pointed to challenges that require solutions in the months and years ahead, adding: “A minority of self-employed people should not be classed as such and are being exploited by unscrupulous firms. We need to make the distinction between the vulnerable and the millions of highly skilled, highly paid professionals who work this way by choice.

“It’s good to see the Government addressing this issue with the Taylor Review of modern employment practices. Mr Taylor must now be sure to call out those companies using self-employment to deny their workers their rights while also supporting people who wouldn’t choose to work any other way.”

IPSE was invited to attend the first of ten public evidence-gathering events organised by the Taylor Review in what is to be a nationwide tour.

Other contributors to this event included professional recruitment body the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), the Institute of Directors and the GMB and BECTU trade unions.

IPSE is calling for greater clarity over what is and is not considered self-employment, and it joined APSCo in urging the Taylor Review to distinguish between “gig” workers who need employment protections and contracting professionals who have positively chosen to freelance and do not desire more protections.

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